Manufacturing Safety for Manitoba

Psychological health, surviving the survival phase of the crisis

Psychological health, surviving the survival phase of the crisis

Posted on June 2, 2020

Social distancing. Self-isolation. Pandemic. Quarantine. Just a few weeks ago these words meant very different things to most Canadians than they do today. In a short period, COVID-19 has changed the way we work, learn and socialize. A focus on workplace mental health and psychological safety is critical to surviving the survival stage.

As employers, we have an important role to play in the mental health and well-being of our people, just as we do their physical health. Some anxiety is healthy and normal: it motivates us to wash our hands after being in public, cough into our elbows and take other reasonable steps to protect ourselves and others. At the other end of the spectrum, unhealthy anxiety at extreme levels can be debilitating. There are three critical factors to how much anxiety a major crisis can be expected to cause. In the case of COVID-19, these conditions have created a perfect storm for mental health crises in the workplace.

  • How predictable was the event, and the course the event will follow?
  • How much control over the event does the individual have?
  • How important are the impacts of the event to them personally?

Compounding the situation is the degree of uncertainty around recovery. Many workers now know what steps are needed to mitigate the impacts of a pandemic, but not how quickly those steps will return us to normal, nor even what normal will be when this is over.


Anxiety needs to hear truth. Anxiety is the brain saying, “Yes, but what if…” louder and louder until the person can’t hear anything else. Below are the messages that your people need to hear (preferably from the direct leaders) often and with transparency. Credibility will be key to delivering effective messages:

  • Have a plan. Let your employees know that you are looking ahead, that your organization is staying well-informed and that you can answer their questions. It is normal for employees to want to know what if I get sick? How do I take time off work? What if my family member contracts the virus? You may want to compile frequently asked questions and direct employees to them often. Mental Health First Aid for Leaders, like the program offered by St. John’s Ambulance, can be invaluable during these conversation to help recognize mental health struggles.
  • Communicate and share openly. Worry and fear thrive in the absence of up-to-date information. Let your employees know that they can expect regular updates from you. Communicate even if the situation remains unchanged. Communicate even when the situation is not entirely positive to help your employees to see how your plan adjusts.
  • Show that you understand that it’s stressful. Recognize that it’s okay to be anxious. Remind your employees of resources, such as an EAP if your company has one, that are available for those who are experiencing stress. Author and speaker Dr. Brene Brown’s video on empathy is a tool that each person reaching out to someone else to provide support can review to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy and help equip leaders for difficult conversations.
  • Reassure—as best you can, while still acknowledging the difficulty of the situation. You can refer to reports indicating that most people who become infected with the virus will recover, and can highlight the current statistics on “flattening the curve” in your jurisdiction.
  • Recognize when stress has become unmanageable for individual employees. Stress can lead to anxiety and even panic. Some employees may need mental health days and medical intervention in order to cope. We are all experiencing one of the most traumatic upheavals of our lives and we all deserve compassion as we find our way through it. The resources put together by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mental Health Commission of Canada can support your frontline leaders as they have these conversations.
  • Recognize this is not quite ‘business as usual.’ Know that your business will likely be impacted. Work will slow down, necessary travel may be canceled and other changes will be necessary in the short-term. Reassure staff that expectations will shift accordingly, and that’s ok. We will get through this!


Even introverts need interaction with other people on a regular basis. Humans are social creatures. This Mental Health Commission of Canada Workbook is an excellent resource to provide to your people to help them monitor and plan to safeguard their mental health during isolation. The Mental Health Continuum Model contains helpful signs and indicators as well as actions to take at each phase of the continuum.


  • Communication is connection. Ensure that you are provide at minimum weekly updates on the state of the business.
  • Create opportunities for your internal teams to connect on a more regular basis:

– Create a Slack group (or use another team collaboration tool of your choice) and publicize it. Any team member with a smartphone or computer can access your group and you can create different “channels” within that group for specific topics.

– Email regularly and provide updates on the business, summarize accurate information on the current situation, and provide industry information. Stay connected! – Personal contact: a schedule for phone calls and text messages can be a way to ensure that your leaders and employees stay connected and provide an opportunity for an assessment of current mental health condition and provide a safe forum for the workers to ask about how to get more support.

For more information

Download the full COVID-19: psychological health and safety tip sheet which includes links to mental health supports across Canada and a checklist for leaders managing staff through the pandemic.

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